“Previously it was very strict,” says Michel, the general manager at Alcazar in the Paris district of Saint Germain. I think he means “austere” but my A level French pales in comparison to his English, so I keep my trap shut.
He’s talking about his restaurant’s new décor. It’s been revamped by architect Laura Gonzalez, who was given the brief of making it feminine, green and Parisian. It’s clear Michel is impressed with the results. I am too.
Arranged over two levels, the first floor skirts around the space’s periphery like a picture frame, enabling cocktail slurpers to peer down from the balcon at the diners on the ground floor. Sprouting up through the centre is a forest of what look like, to my horticulturaly challenged eyes, palm fronds and apricot trees.
Spherical lampshades descend from the ceiling like fluorescent tarantula eggs. The bar is contemporary art deco; black and white prints by the photographer Bruce Gilden complement the olive walls with characteristic subtlety.
Even though I no longer partake, I’m impressed to see a smoking room. Inside, it feels like an ashtray converted into a sauna — but in a comfortingly Parisian way, if you know what I mean. I spy the DJ booth and ask Michel what kind of music they play. “Always happy music. It can be any style but it’s always happy,” he says. A bit non-committal, so I presume it’s probably upbeat jazz. Can’t go wrong with upbeat jazz…
I must admit it’d never occurred to me to leap on the Eurostar to go for lunch in Paris. No, that’d be far too adventurous. Usually the Frenchest I get, during office hours at least, is the local Pret.
It’s only two-and-a-half hours to the Gare du Nord by train, followed by around 30 minutes’ taxi ride to the hip streets of Saint German. So, bearing in mind you lose an hour in transit, you could split from London St Pancras around 9am and be at Alcazar, or any number of chic restaurants, easily in time for lunch.
Of course, it’s a fine area to flaneur around too, with narrow streets that hug the Seine like hairs on a caterpillar. Alcazar lies in the thick of the bohemian, arty area. A short walk north, with the Louvre in sight, you’ll get a more touristy vibe: accordionists, Chat Noir posters. You know the deal….
Alcazar’s menu is modern and eclectic. Like the décor, it’s stylish but accessible. Lots of seafood, beef and duck. “But what about the wine list?” I hear you cry. It’s extensive. And, as you’d expect, very French. It’s compartmentalised by region, so that’s the Grand Cinq: Loire, Bordeaux, Rhone, Burgundy and Grand Sud. Plus they’ve been generous enough to chuck in a few Vins du Monde at the end, with a blanc and a rouge from each of the major regions — California, Italy, South Africa, Spain, Germay, Chile, New Zealand. Australia is conspicuous in its absence though!
The crab cakes with house spiced ketchup kick off my lunch. Except they don’t quite kick off as much as expected. I wanted a punch of herby freshness or a slap of lemon tang. Those crabs just needed a bit more pinch in the claw.
It’s not the most elegantly presented dish on the menu either, looking like diminished onion bhajis waiting at traffic lights stuck on red. By contrast, my friend’s ceviche of sea bass with grapefruit and granny smith is a delicate work of art. Round one to her.
On to the ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and Dublin Bay prawns, with smoked garlic espuma. Surprisingly, parsley dominates the garlic here, while the surrounding foam has a life of its own, moving independently of its pasta-cloaked host. It surpasses my starter, and I’m again impressed with my companion’s choice of seared scallops with tarbais beans and chorizo.
But the Palme d’Or, so to speak, goes to dessert. Poached pear with gingerbread and vanilla ice cream. Wow. This is gingerbread how it’s supposed to be: soft, bready, delicately spiced, rather than crunchy and stale with bow tie and buttons. The pear is infused with mulled wine, and suddenly I’m infused with the festive spirit in the middle of April.
Aah, Christmas in springtime in Paris. I reckon I’ll be doing this again.
Words and pictures by The Wine Ninjas
First published on http://www.foodepedia.co.uk
Alcazar can be found at: 62 Rue Mazarine, 75006, Paris